MANILA, Philippines?University of the Philippines law professor Ibarra Gutierrez may initially have been spared from possible disciplinary action that the Supreme Court may impose on 37 of his colleagues, including the college dean. But by warning of a ?tyranny of the judiciary? on Friday, he expressed concern that the high court might now crack the whip on him as well.
?I don't know whether I should be concerned at this point since I actually have expressed a public criticism of a published decision of the Supreme Court, going by the standard in the resolution issued against my 37 colleagues,? Gutierrez said at a press conference at the UP College of Law.
Gutierrez teaches human rights, criminal law, public officers and election law, local governments and property law.
Gutierrez said that as public officials, Supreme Court justices are not spared from public criticism as this was one of the checks and balances for those in government who were not elected to office.
?We can only imagine how a society would look if public officials, or even if we confine it simply to judicial officers, were exempt from any kind of public criticism, that their actions would be beyond any kind of review by the public, beyond scope of any kind of public discussion,? Gutierrez said, adding, ?What we would have there would be a tyranny of the judiciary and obviously that would be unacceptable.?
Gutierrez said elected officials, could at the very least, be ?voted out? in the next elections if their actions were found unacceptable by the public.
?With respect to judges who are beyond the scope of any kind of electoral process, it becomes even more important that their actions be subject to public discussion because that is the only mode of accountability in so far as the public is concerned, where they can be readily made to answer for any kind of not even outright wrongdoing even error or ill advised conduct on their part as public officers,? he said.
This was the intention of the UP law faculty, including himself, in issuing the critical statement that concluded that Justice Mariano del Castillo had plagiarized the works of three eminent and international law authors in writing a decision on the case of World War II ?comfort women? and called for his resignation.
Gutierrez said that the issue of plagiarism in a Supreme Court decision goes into the realm of ?moral and ethical accountability.?
?The Supreme Court, compared to the two other major branches of government, is arguably the weakest in terms of naked authority. It doesn't command the Armed Forces like the President can. It doesn't disburse the public coffers like Congress can. It simply interprets laws and in order to amply maintain its authority under the Constitution, it banks on moral credibility,? he said.
?The idea (is) that when it speaks, it does so authoritatively and does so only with the best interests of the Constitution in mind. It does so with full moral, ethical authority. That is precisely what is eroded when there are serious allegations against the moral credibility of a Supreme Court decision,? he added.
Based on the dissenting opinion of Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, herself a former UP law professor, Gutierrez said that Del Castillo plagiarized the law experts ?not once but 23 times.?
?It undermined the moral credibility of the court and we feel it weakens the institution which we don't want to see precisely because we want the Supreme Court as an institution to remain true to its role and therefore any danger in eroding that moral authority should be addressed and that was our intention in pointing out the weaknesses in the Vinuya ponencia,? Gutierrez said.
At the press conference, Gutierrez appeared to realize he had gone out on a limb for his fellow law professors.
?Maybe I should be ordered to show cause as well as to why I should not be cited in contempt for violating these canons... I am a bit disappointed not to be included in the resolution but maybe it's all for the good,? he said, drawing laughter from those present.
In a resolution issued last week, the Supreme Court ordered the 37 UP law professors, including Leonen and four former deans, to explain why they should ?not be disciplined as members of the Bar? for violating certain canons of the Code of Professional Responsibility for lawyers.
Gutierrez said he was among the other UP law professors who signified concurrence with the statement via e-mail since they could not physically sign it at that time.
The 37 UP law professors now have their own lawyers to represent them in the case and the legal team has begun meeting to come up with the faculty's defense before the Supreme Court.
?We are going to respond to the order that was given to us,? Leonen said at Friday's press conference.
Asked if the college has already prepared for the worst-case scenario that the 37 would be unable to teach next semester because of the case, Leonen said that the UP College of Law, as an ?institution? would survive this latest crisis.
?The institution will survive because there are other faculty members that are available. Many practitioners aspire to teach at UP not for the salary that it gives, because we share the same salary of a public school teacher, but for the prestige of it to be able to shape the minds of our students, to be able to think of reforms that they can do within society especially with respect to the judiciary and legislature,? Leonen said.
Leonen pointed out that the UP College of Law will celebrate its centennial on January 11, 2011.
?We've been through a lot of crises and the institution has survived,? he said.